Trust issues: Dealing with distrust in politics
Harry Quilter-Pinner, Rachel Statham, Will Jennings and Viktor Valgarðsson

Liberal democracy across the West is under strain. The causes of these democratic challenges are many and complex but there is a common thread: a decline in political trust.

Growing distrust in politicians should be of particular concern to democrats and progressives. A lack of trust matters for two main reasons. This report has also considered the potential drivers and consequences of trust in decline. We find evidence for two sets of factors that determine trust.

  1. Performance of government: This means the outputs (such as public services) and outcomes (such as social outcomes) that government delivers.
  2. Processes of government: This means the process by which these decisions are made (such as how well democracy functions). 

Crucially, it is both the perception of these things and the reality of them that matters.

This evidence points to a disturbing possibility: a downward spiral of trust, whereby worsening government performance and deteriorations in democracy can lead to a decline in trust. This decline in trust can contribute in turn to a worsening in governmental performance (such as lower economic growth, poorer public services, widening inequalities) and to a democratic deterioration (such as greater support for populism, more polarisation, and more scandals and corruption). This then starts the cycle again, pushing trust yet lower.

The report concludes that declining trust poses clear risks to society if left unchecked. Action is needed to set the UK on a new course, away from democratic dissatisfaction and towards democratic and social renewal. To support this effort, the report outlines four significant ‘social and political gaps’ that it argues must be closed to improve trust in the UK.

  1. Between the loves people expected to lead and the lives people are experiencing.
  2. Between the scale of the social challenges we face and the (perceived) ability of government to deliver against them.
  3. Between the principles of liberal democracy and the reality of our political system as it manifests today.
  4. Between the values and experience of citizens and those who govern on their behalf.